I object to the prison system because it harms families and communities while punishing offenders with little regard for personal circumstance. The prison system takes parents away from children, removes financial support from women, and places the burden on families who have committed no crimes.
I would never call for the men in dentistry to be imprisoned -- and the constant development of new laws like cyber bullying to criminalize more and more people is disturbing, particularly because we know they are disproportionately used against communities of colour. Rapists in prison do horrifying time -- people literally throw shit at them, they have to be locked up 23 hours a day for their own safety, they get beaten up and stabbed, and nobody, no matter what their crime, deserves those conditions.
The prison system takes freedom but doesn't guarantee safety. It's a cruel system that damages offenders, destroys families, decimates communities of colour, preys on poor and racialized people, exploits women, promotes no healing or rehabilitation, and that removes fundamental human rights. Going through prison on the outside with someone is awful, and on the inside it's terrifying beyond words. Being treated as human is a right.
Being a dentist is not a right. If someone is not appropriate to be a professional, society is not obligated towards them in some way. Bright, caring people are rejected from dentistry/medical school every year. The university removes people for taking too long to complete degrees because of life circumstances, but suddenly it's so important to preserve the life options of these men. It is not even punishment to recognize someone is not suited to a program, it is reality.
If I can't write a dissertation, I can't get my degree. If a dentist can't behave ethically is he entitled to his? How many people from marginalized backgrounds are denied entrance to these programs because they don't have the resources and time to get the grades to get in? What about their right to access to the same privilege and money guaranteed these men? Will this process talk about that and include the goal of diverse representation in their reparations, recognizing that this behaviour is embedded in privilege?
We cannot have a restorative approach that fundamentally doesn't acknowledge how social and gender privilege, race, and class play into this. If those running the process have yet to acknowledge this, how can they confront it with offenders? Restorative justice is important in communities of colour -- particularly Black and Indigenous -- because it recognizes historic marginalization that leads to disproportionate incarceration and the effect of the prison system on our communities.
It is important for offenders in general because it promotes taking responsibility. Prisoners who have chosen to go through these programs have universally said it was the hardest thing they ever had to do to walk in a room and listen to those they harmed. It's not an easy process and it is necessary in transformation both of individuals and society. I hope these men do recognize how they have damaged their classmates and their community. I believe people can change and heal. But without discussing why these men felt entitled to speak this way, why they felt protected, why their environment allows this, how the same privilege that gives them access to processes denied marginalized people will also protect them as professionals and silence victims if they continue to harm women, etc. there can be no true moves to justice.
Prisoners suffer stigma, shame, exile from society. They pay over and over. It bothers me to equate our need for compassion with the most marginalized in society to that of the most privileged, who always already get the benefit of the doubt, the lightest sentence, the best representation. I don't disagree with restorative justice as a practice but let's start with giving access to those who need it most, not with those who always get access to justice. And let's make the obvious observation that the administration also needs to make reparation and acknowledge harm and thus should not be leading the process but being in it. And let's also talk about how education is meant to transform and educational institutions should be places where those who are marginalized are empowered, yet our institutions still serve rich, white men.
Let's talk about why I am more scared about consequences for speaking out as a non-tenured woman of colour than these men need to be. I am more worried about retribution than they are. I am more likely than them to lose an opportunity. I probably thought far more about potential consequences for speaking for women on campus than they did speaking about raping them.
I have seen violent men change. I have cried with men and seen their genuine remorse. I've seen people tortured by their actions and I've seen them take responsibility through hard, long self work. I've cried with families over their pain and I've personally been traumatized by how the prison system damages us. I believe people can be accountable and I do not support universal punishment. So I cannot be against restorative justice as a principle.
But it is a tool to change society, not to reinforce oppression and the status quo. Until the university fundamentally recognizes that in this process and gets how this entire thing was about privilege -- men feeling entitled to women's bodies, men feeling insulated by their position, men counting on lack of consequence -- they cannot create the necessary changes to their structures nor recognize and mitigate harm. If they are still puzzled by why women are so angry how can they help guide healing?